The Carnivore Diet: A Nutritionist’s Take

By Ellie Smith

3 weeks ago

What are the risks of eating an all-meat diet?


It’s a truth universally acknowledged that vegetables are good for us. The importance of eating enough plants is at the forefront of the modern day health conversation – yet in a corner of TikTok, a diet that excludes them entirely is gaining momentum. We’re talking about the carnivore diet, also known as the all-meat diet: a type of eating which focuses solely on consuming animal products. 

The hashtag #carnivorediet has amassed over 60k views on the platform, with devotees sharing videos of their raw steak breakfasts, snacks of butter sticks and bison burger dinners. Advocates are reporting significant weight loss and improved wellbeing – but surely such a restrictive diet can’t actually be good for us? We asked nutritionist Kim Pearson to shed some light.

Carnivore Diet: Benefits & Risks

What Is The Carnivore Diet?

The carnivore diet is a type of ketogenic diet which involves eliminating all plant-based foods and eating just animal products. ‘Following the carnivore diet means consuming only animal products like beef, lamb, pork, poultry, game meats and seafood,’ says Kim. ‘Some people following the diet also eat dairy products and eggs. Fruits, vegetables, pulses (like beans, chickpeas and lentils), grains, nuts and seeds are all excluded.’

Although variations of the diet have existed for hundreds of years, more recently it was popularised by orthopaedic doctor Shawn Baker, who wrote about the benefits of a meat-focused way of eating in his 2019 book The Carnivore Diet. In the past couple of years, the trend has grown significantly as a result of social media – spurred on by names with big followings, like podcasters Joe Rogan and Lex Fridman. 

Eggs

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Are There Any Health Benefits?

Followers of the diet argue it harks back to the way our ancestors ate in the hunter-gatherer age, before UPFs took over, and claim a whole host of health benefits. But do these stand up nutritionally?

According to Kim, the carnivore diet ‘has the potential to promote weight loss, improve mental clarity, improve digestion (in some, though others find their digestion worsens), and reduce inflammation.’ She adds: ‘improvement in autoimmune conditions is another widely reported benefit of the carnivore diet.’

Blood sugar is another big topic in the health sphere at the moment, and Kim points out that a low-carbohydrate diet could help improve metabolic health. ‘The diet should be based on whole, single ingredient foods, meaning that if you follow the carnivore diet you’ll likely be cutting out ultra-processed foods,’ she says.

There’s limited scientific evidence surrounding the benefits carnivore diet, but one study from 2021 supported some of the claims. Researchers surveyed 2,029 people who had been following the carnivore diet for a minimum of six months, finding participants lost an average of 20lbs, and reported ‘few adverse effects and instead reported health benefits and high satisfaction’. However, the research was based on a self-reported online survey as opposed to randomised control trials, and the authors concluded more studies into the topic were needed.

Burgers cooking on a BBQ

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Who Might The Carnivore Diet Work For?

‘Genetically this style of diet could suit certain people,’ says Kim. ‘We do a lot of genetic testing at our clinic to help us identify suitability of different dietary approaches. It’s likely advocates for the carnivore diet are particularly well suited to a very low carbohydrate diet with good utilisation of saturated fats. 

‘The carnivore diet eliminates anti-nutrients found in plants, such as lectins and oxalates. Lectins are a type of protein that can interfere with nutrient absorption and contribute to digestive issues in some people. Oxalates are organic compounds that can form crystals in the body, sometimes leading to kidney stones and other health issues. There is some evidence to suggest that reducing or eliminating foods high in lectins and oxalates can help decrease inflammation and improve other aspects of health. 

‘That said, many of the plant foods that contain oxalates and lectins also have a wide variety of beneficial anti-inflammatory nutrients and can support general health in many different ways. I would argue that for the majority of people, the pros of eating vegetables significantly outweigh the cons.’

What Are The Risks Of The Carnivore Diet?

‘The carnivore diet has a number of potential drawbacks,’ says Kim. ‘Excluding plant foods can result in no intake of nutrients such as fibre and phytonutrients. The absence of fibre in the diet can negatively impact gut health, causing constipation and bloating. Vegetables and fruit provide higher levels of a range of nutrients, including vitamin C, which our bodies cannot produce. Depending on the genetics of an individual, a high intake of saturated fats can be detrimental for weight management and health in general.’

Plus, Kim adds, any restrictive diet has the potential to trigger disordered eating in those who struggle with their relationship with food.

Does The Carnivore Diet Aid Weight Loss?

So there are certainly risks – but could a meat-focused diet help with losing weight? Yes, says Kim. ‘By focusing exclusively on animal products, the diet is high in protein, which promotes satiety and as a result reduces energy intake. High protein diets increase the metabolism through the thermic effect of food, where the body burns more calories digesting and metabolising protein than it does with other macronutrients like carbohydrates. 

‘Eliminating carbohydrates can help to stabilise blood sugar levels and reduce insulin spikes, reducing the likelihood of fat storage and promoting fat loss. The simplicity and restrictive nature of the carnivore diet also limits food choices, which can lead to reduced food consumption and, consequently, weight loss.’

Would A Nutritionist Recommend The Carnivore Diet?

Kim says she hasn’t recommended this dietary approach before. ‘The restrictive nature of this diet also means that for many, it’s unlikely to be sustainable for most people long term,’ she says. Ultimately, there’s not enough evidence to back up the alleged claims, and for the majority of people, a balanced diet is optimal.

However, Kim doesn’t totally discount the carnivore diet. ‘It has the potential to provide benefits for some as a short term strategy to help the body overcome certain health conditions. Specialising in weight loss, I work with a lot of clients with autoimmune conditions, particularly Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune hypothyroidism. I’m interested in the evolving research into the potential for carnivore diets to help manage and improve autoimmune conditions.’

Kim Pearson qualified as a nutritionist at London’s Institute for Optimum Nutrition in 2008 and has worked in the field of nutrition and health for 20 years. She specialises in weight loss, metabolic health, and longevity. In addition to heading up her UK team of nutritionists, Kim is the clinical director of RoseBar longevity clinic in Ibiza. Follow Kim on Instagram @kimmypearson and find out more about her work at kim–pearson.com